Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Guns, Mass Shootings, Evidence, and Opinions

In the wake of repeated mass shootings and the predictable subsequent media debates arguing simple solutions to a very complex problem, I did some research to find what the empirical evidence on the issue would reveal. My personal bias prior to the research might be categorized as a pro-gun liberal. I would support reasonable gun regulations such as background checks and a ban on assault weapons, but I firmly stand behind the Second Amendment.

The American Sociological Association (ASA) summarizes a study conducted by Adam Lankford.[1] Lankford provides a quantitative assessment of all mass shootings worldwide (171 countries) from 1966 through 2012. Omitting gang-related, hostage-taking, robberies and domestic shootings, the study borrows the FBI definition of mass shooting: a shooting that killed more than 4 victims. (ASA)

Lankford found that, unlike shooters from other countries, American mass shooters were more likely to strike in schools, factories, warehouses, and office buildings. American shooters were also more likely to use multiple weapons. (ASA) Lankford also found a strong correlation between civilian firearm ownership rate of a country and that country’s mass shooting rate. The top 5 countries for firearms owned by civilian population were also in the top 15 countries for mass shootings within that population. Lankford cites gun ownership rates as the best predictor of mass shootings. (ASA)

In an interview with Science of Us, award winning sociologist, Abraham De Swann, cites three qualities that make an individual more likely to commit mass murder:

1.   Their sense of conscience is limited to friends and family (low morality with regards to minorities and the less fortunate in society).
2.   They are low on self-efficacy. That is, they don’t feel particularly responsible for their lives. Life happens to them. Others are to blame for their problems (fate, God, luck, destiny, minorities, people who are different).
3.   They have very little empathy for people outside of their social circle ("If it doesn't affect me or mine, then they deserve what they get").[2]

Stanley Milgram’s famous obedience experiment and Phillip Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment, provide evidence that heinous behaviors do not manifest in a vacuum, but result from complex interactions between an individual and his/her social environment.[3] America is ranked number one in mass shootings. In a list ranking the top 5 countries for incidents of mass shootings, America is followed by the Philippines, Russia, Yemen, and France.(ASA) How does the social environment in America contribute to our having nearly twice as many mass shootings as the other four countries on this list combined?

Frederike Sommer et al, conducted a “systematic search” of the professional literature on school shootings which included 35 international primary studies.[4] While there was no single factor that was present in all school shootings, certain factors did emerge as strong predictors. The following is a breakdown of frequent and infrequent qualities in perpetrators of mass shooting:

·       88.1% social conflict within the school

·       53.7% peer rejection           
·       43.3% conflicts with teachers                                            
·       29.9% victim of bullying:                                                  
·       29.9% romantic rejection                                                 
I love westerns, biker flicks, and gangster movies. I like guns, and swords, and other dangerous toys. Courage, strength, violence, and heroes are concepts that resonate with my inner 7th grader. A thirst for adventure is the emotional element that draws me to dangerous themes.

That said, while I own guns, I have never carried one or even considered it. Why would I? If tears say, “I am sad,” and punching a wall says, “I am angry,” then carrying a gun says, “I am scared.” And, I am not scared.

Only a terrified person would need to have a firearm on his person at all times. Some situations warrant such fear. If one is in combat, law enforcement, a violent street gang, or any position where one might reasonably expect to be the target of some else’s firearm, then carrying a weapon is sensible. But, what level of paranoia and anxiety would be required to prompt a person living in ordinary circumstances to believe that, at any moment, someone might try to kill him? If life itself is so frightening that one feels the need to carry a firearm everywhere, I interpret that as evidence of a level of anxiety bordering on delusional. And, if I’m not mistaken, an absence of psychiatric problems is a prerequisite for obtaining a concealed weapon permit.

I have been fortunate in my life. At 55, I have resolved every conflict through conversation or an ass whipping. Whether I am at a motorcycle rally or in a bad part of town late at night, I move through life without fear of my fellow man.  I’m not saying that I am against guys carrying firearms, only that those who do are also carrying more fear than I can muster. 

The odds of my dying in a mass shooting are 1 in 12,000,000. I am 4 times more likely to die by a lightning strike! If I am ever in the unfortunate situation of being present at a mass shooting, I will try to stay alive and try to help others stay alive. Otherwise, I will continue to be a kind and generous person, rather than a well-armed one.

[1] "U.S. Has 5% of World's Population, But Had 31% of Its Public Mass Shooters From 1966-2012." American Sociological Association N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Oct. 2015.
[2] "An Author Explains How Mass Killings Happen." Science of Us. N.p., 04 Feb. 2015. Web. 08 Oct. 2015.
[3] Zimbardo, P. G. (1971). "The power and pathology of imprisonment", Congressional Record (Serial No. 15, 1971-10-25). Hearings before Subcommittee No. 3, of the United States House Committee on the Judiciary, Ninety-Second Congress, First Session on Corrections, Part II, Prisons, Prison Reform and Prisoner's Rights: California. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
[4] Sommer, Frederike, and Et Al. "Bullying, Romantic Rejection, and Conflicts with Teachers: The Crucial Role of Social Dynamics in the Development of School Shootings – A Systematic Review."International Journal of Developmental Science 8 (n.d.): 3-24. 12 Oct. 2015. Web.


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